Despite the best efforts of artists of all types, the experience of wartime remains a difficult subject to capture. Whether poetry, nonfiction, or paintings, a divide may remain between artist and viewer. Some of that divide is eaqsed with the best military documentaries–seeing the action, horror, bravery, and reality of war through a camera can make the experience far more visceral. Serving as an eye-opening medium, military docs really allow viewers to fully understand events and factors that can lead to full-scale decimation.
With so many military documentaries out there, it can be overwhelming to figure out which one really captures a certain time period’s atmosphere. But not to worry: The following titles are the best of the best when it comes to providing gripping and accurate information any viewer can get lost in. Get streaming with the best military documentaries now available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.
The Vietnam War
This extensive and in-depth docuseries chronicles the Vietnam War from start to finish. The series was created by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, iconic documentary filmmakers. The two have received a number of awards for their work in documentary, including Emmys, Peabodys, and an Oscar. Featuring dozens of interviews with veterans, protesters, families, and major political figures, this is one of the most comprehensive docs out there, fully capturing the effects of the Vietnam War.
Medal of Honor
Medal of Honor is one of the most powerful and moving documentaries on Netflix right now. This anthology style docuseries takes a new conflict and new cast of individuals on for each episode. Despite the varying elements, they all have something in common: Each central figure has earned a Medal of Honor from the United States military. As a way of paying tribute to these heroes, the documentary takes their stories, re-enacts them, and includes interviews to create a cohesive narrative.
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Hiroshima: The Real History
Narrated by British actor John Sessions, this documentary takes a deep look into the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb. The film takes its time examining all of the events, politics, and other factors that led to the United States’s ultimate decision to unleash one of the most destructive weapons of all time. In addition to the historical timeline before Hiroshima, the film also focuses on the long-lasting effects after the controversial bombing.
Last Men in Aleppo
This compelling documentary, nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, focuses on the Syrian Civil War and the White Helmets, a volunteer organization made up of ordinary citizens. The White Helmets run into the face of danger to provide medical aid, rescue citizens, and evacuate communities in dangerous war zones. The film centers around three of the organization’s founders—Khaled, Subhi, and Mahmoud. The trio discuss the terrors and brutality they have witnessed in the war-torn areas in their country, and what they’re trying to do to help provide relief for those caught in the crossfire.
Five Came Back
This intriguing documentary features the thoughts of filmmakers and stars like Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, and Meryl Streep. The doc is a three-part series that focuses on five legendary Hollywood directors—John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens—who enlisted in World War II as filmmakers. Their footage was used to create propaganda films and Hollywood films alike. Sifting through over 100 hours of material, each modern-day director offer their thoughts on the pieces, as well as the historical impact the works of these directors would have for years to come.
Forgive, Don't Forget
As Japanese forces surrendered in World War II, many soldiers offered up their samurai swords as a ritual symbol of their surrender. American officers took many of those swords back to the U.S. as they left the warfront. Forgive, Don’t Forget follows an American filmmaker who sets out to find and return one sword to the family of its original owner. Littered with interesting tidbits about Japanese and American relationships during and after the war, this documentary will fascinate and move viewers.
The Hornet's Nest
Peabody and Emmy Award-winning journalist Mike Boettcher and his son Carlos enter a war torn Afghanistan to document a perilous mission. Meant to capture a three-day boots-on-the-ground mission, the Boettchers find themselves in the midst of nine days of combat. The soldiers followed in this documentary fight valiantly against enemy forces able to conceal themselves within the desert landscape while father-and-son efforts place the viewer firmly in their midst.
The Boer War: 1899-1902
This fascinating documentary takes us back to 1899 and the Boer War. At a time when the truth of the saying "The sun never sets on the British empire" was undeniable, South African forces attempted to break free. Three years of guerrilla-style warfare ensued as the Boer states of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State began to divest themselves of British rule. This conflict changed the way that war was fought forever as guerrilla warfare began to reign supreme and the use of cavalry and mounted troops fell to the wayside.
A New Nation for All
If you’re looking for a comprehensive retelling of the American Revolution, look no further than this documentary. A New Nation for All provides riveting details about the events leading up to the war, as well as the struggles American soldiers were forced to confront during their fight for freedom. While many films in the past have captured different facets of the American Revolution, this documentary is a solid jack-of-all-trades that makes for an enjoyable watch.
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Featured still from "The Vietnam War" via PBS